Couples often enter the therapy room saying, “we just aren’t speaking the same language!” Couples who say this phrase often feel their relationship needs are not being met. Or perhaps one doesn’t don’t feel cared for or understood by their partner. One common reason for this mismatch may be that a partner’s love language isn’t recognized. But why is this so important?
Love languages are not the end-all-be-all to relational satisfaction. However, it certainly helps when we understand why and how our partner gives and receives love. The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman teaches us that when we acknowledge and learn our partner’s love language, we find opportunities to connect and grow in our relationship. Each love language probably feels good to each of us at some point or another. Yet, one particular language usually helps us feel truly loved. When you get the full experience of receiving that one love language that speaks to you, it feels like fireworks going off in your brain.
What are the 5 Love Languages?
Dr. Gary Chapman developed the concept of the 5 Love Languages. Dr. Chapman has a background in anthropology and is also a pastor and couples therapist. While combining his knowledge and curiosities around linguistics and relationships, The 5 Love Languages were born. Love Languages give us concrete ways to understand and express how we feel loved in our relationships. In his book The 5 Love Languages, Dr. Chapman writes about “keeping your partner’s love tank full.” In other words, if you can speak your partner’s love language regularly, you can keep their “love tank full.” This effort can lead to longer and more positive relationships. The 5 Love Languages are:
Words of affirmation
These words can appear as verbal or written compliments. Words of affirmation can be as direct as saying “I love you” or sending a text to your partner with something like, “Good luck on your presentation today. I know you will rock it!” You don’t need to shower your partner with compliments “just because.” Words of affirmation are more about letting your partner know how much you love them and believe in them.
Physical touch can mean something different to everyone, even between partners. Therefore, it’s essential to talk with your partner about your relationship with touch. Help your partner understand what physical touch means to you. Whether holding hands, a shoulder rub, or having sex, all forms of physical touch can be meaningful. And no, physical touch does not always mean sexual touch. Physical touch may be a form of affection that helps calm your partner down, provide comfort, or feel secure in the relationship.
Quality is all about uninterrupted one-on-one time with your partner. This Love Language focuses on dedicated time to connect, laugh, dream, or try something new. It’s “making time to make time” for your relationship. The definition of quality time may look different from partner to partner, and that’s okay. Dr. Chapman says, even if your partner chooses to do something outside your comfort zone, try it anyway! The effort to try something new in this way signals that you care and you want to spend time with your partner no matter what you are doing.
Acts of service
This Love Language is not just about doing chores for your partner. It’s about doing meaningful things for your partner. Perhaps your partner has been stressed getting the kids to all their extracurricular activities the past few weeks. An Act of Service would be focusing your efforts on helping them with that stressful endeavor. Being attuned to your partner’s needs and what may help alleviate stress is critical. If your primary Love Language is Acts of Service, it’s helpful to be specific with your partner on which acts are more important to you.
This Love Language does not mean you are materialistic. Instead, gifts represent visual symbols of your partner’s love and appreciation. Gifts signal that one partner is thinking of the other, and giving a gift is a way to express that love. Gifts do not have to be of high monetary value; they can be made, found, and even your presence can be considered a gift.
Love Language Mismatch
You will not always speak your partner’s love language fluently, which is okay. The point is that you try. Dr. Chapman says it’s common to have a different love language than your partner. Learning a love language isn’t so different than learning to speak a foreign language. It can be different and maybe a little uncomfortable showing love to our partner in a way that does not come naturally. There may be frustration, disappointment, and feelings of disconnection. However, it can make a big difference when you learn how to communicate effectively. Your efforts can help to fill your partner’s love tank and show how much you care about them.
Here’s a real-life example of a couple with unknown and mismatched love languages. This gap was creating some disconnection in their marriage. Names are changed to protect confidentiality.
Gina reported feeling lonely and unloved in her marriage with Dave. Dave reported feeling confused and scared to lose Gina but feels like he does not know what else to do. Dave talked about the wonderful things he has done for her recently; He bought her a new car this year, coordinated a spa day for Gina and her friends for her birthday, and even bought her favorite ice cream at the store this week. Gina stated that she appreciates all those sweet gestures but misses hearing Dave say romantic and encouraging things to her. Gina said she could not recall the last time she heard Dave say he loved her, was proud of her, or that she was pretty.
Dave replied that he did not realize hearing those words was important to her. Dave said he thought his actions and gifts expressed that to her. Dave went on to open up about his own family and how they showed love. Dave said he did not get to see his parents very often as they both worked a lot, but stated that they always brought home toys and other gifts from their trips and that this was one of the few ways he and his parents would connect positively. Dave said he thought, “Well, gifts make me feel loved, so I do nice things for Gina to make her feel that too.” Gina reiterated that she appreciates the gifts, and hearing this makes her understand him more deeply. Dave said he did not hear “I love you” or “I am proud of you” growing up but could see how this could be meaningful to Gina.
4 Steps to Get Your Love Language Heard
So, how do we get our love language heard and incorporate it into daily life?
Below are four steps to apply your primary love language in your relationship.
- Discover your love language
First, you need to know your love language. You can take the online quiz here. You can also read The 5 Love Languages and soak in all the stories and anecdotes Dr. Chapman shares. The book may help you narrow your love language down to the one or two that are most meaningful to you.
- Discuss your results with your partner
Take some time to explore and ask follow-up questions about your partner’s love language. This curiosity signals that you care and want to know more. Try asking these questions to one another: Did the results surprise you? Have there been ways recently where I have shown you this love language? What does it feel like when I speak your love language?
- Get your love language heard with a gentle start-up
A gentle start-up is a communication skill that helps couples combat criticism in their relationship. For instance, perhaps your love language is quality time. You’ve been frustrated that you and your partner have not spent much time together. Maybe you’re finding yourself saying, “Ugh! You never want to do anything with me anymore. It’s like you don’t even care!” This approach is considered a harsh start-up and likely evokes your partner’s defensiveness and sabotages your ability to get your needs heard. Instead, try focusing on how you feel about not spending time with your partner and positively share your needs. The gentle start-up might sound like: “Hey, I’ve been feeling disconnected from you lately with everything we have going on. Spending one-on-one time with you makes me feel closer to you, so could we carve out some time for a date night this week?”
- Give your partner some kudos
When your partner speaks your love language, expressing appreciation is essential as it creates a positive feedback loop. “It feels good to know I made my partner feel good, so I will keep doing that.” The positive reinforcement gives your partner the confidence to become more fluent in your love language.
Need help applying the 5 Love Languages in your relationship?
We understand that speaking your partner’s love language may be uncharted territory. It can be challenging to educate your partner on your love language. Yet learning your partner’s love language and helping them learn yours will open up opportunities to explore meaningful and realistic ways to connect. We can help! If you live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, contact us to get started. We also offer free relationship skill-building workshops, including one focused on the 5 Love Languages, if you want to learn more about improving connections and communication in your relationship.